Blades, Catch 22, gin, bad companies, investments and artificial meat

6 December 2020

I was recently buying a gardening tool for pruning from a website I’m not going to name and it was delivered with a ‘magazine’ that I found very disturbing. 

The front cover showed a knife being held point upwards towards the camera by a hand wearing at least three chunky rings.  The ‘model’, out of focus in the background, was a sombre, chunky man in a leather jacket with dark glasses, a scruffy beard and what appeared to be a shaven head – not one of the smiley, bearded young men who model cardigans for Lands End.

Inside were pictures of various blades, a lanyard, a torch and a sheath to help carry them around and a backpack with a “long zipper in the front that enables you to easily reach your gear” – no sign of any shears though there was a selection of axes and meat cleavers.  They say of one knife that it can “legally be carried in many locations” or, in other words, it can’t be legally carried it in other locations.

The centre spread showed the word “Thrill” writ large under – yes, you guessed it, a knife –and, on another page, a knife that includes folding scissors and is so small “no one will be spooked when you pull it out to file your nails or cut off a loose thread”.  I’ve never “pulled out” a nail file in my life, I normally have to scruffle around in a drawer to find it, though I did once have one confiscated in the 1970s when flights were getting hi-jacked;  I still wonder if “Take this plane to Paris or I’ll file your nails” would have worked.

After I wrote recently about a couple of times when I’d dreamt of somebody and been inspired to ring them only to find one of them had just died, a friend said this sounded “spooky”.  There’s still so much we don’t know about things like this that it hadn’t spooked me at all. 

We know that trees and plants communicate, albeit at quite a basic level, and sometimes involve what are considered to be an entirely different species (e.g.  oak trees and mycorrhizal fungi);  what’s so strange about forms of human to human communication we don’t yet understand and can’t control or explain?

But I do find myself quite seriously spooked by a catalogue full of creepy blades.

As I’m sure you’ll have anticipated, my next move was to wonder what you can get on the dark web if clumsily disguised street-knives can be bought on the ‘light’ web so I naturally googled ‘dark web dope’.  A wide selection is available but it looks as if you have to download Tor and set up a Bitcoin ‘wallet’, which looked far too complicated for a direct descendant of the mythical Ned Ludd.  I wonder if they give Nectar points.

Living without Bitcoin, I make do with a Sainsbury Bank account and have just come across an absolutely brilliant Catch 22 created by some geek in their back office.  For some reason, the site wouldn’t let me log in even though I’d reset the password and online PIN several times and it then announced that “Your online access has been suspended … just choose ‘Reset your details’ to get back into online banking”.  So I did.  Several times.  Guess what message kept reappearing. 

Then I tried the ‘contact us’ options, which also has another clever little system that takes you in circles back to where you started.

Since they gave a phone number for online banking support, I rang it and explained the problem to The Geek and asked him to unsuspend my access.  “I can’t do that” he said (yes, it was of course a man) “You have to do that yourself.  Just log in and follow the instructions.”

In an attempt to make things clear, I said “You can’t unsuspend my account and only I can do this by logging in, which I can’t do because my access is suspended?”  “That’s right” he said so I had a cup of tea instead.

I saw a much more wholesome advertisement in the paper with a picture of a car and the legend “It’s OK to stare.  The new Audi Q5.  With OLED rear light technology.”  Imagine you see one in a friend’s drive and ask what its performance is like;  you’ll probably get the answer “Dunno, I only bought it for the rear lights”.

Then, while shopping online, I came across an ad for Sipsmith gin, which says it’s “Hand crafted in London”.   I always thought it was distilled, not crafted, but they obviously have rooms full of people hunched over juniper berries, carving them into irresistible patterns;  not that juniper is mentioned in the list of ingredients unless it’s included in “a classic ten botanical recipe” (I quote exactly, don’t complain to me about the grammar).  Perhaps that was where The Geek used to work.

Perhaps all supermarket managers are geeks.  On Wednesday, two of the largest supermarket chains gave up and agreed to repay more than £850m in business rates relief they had accepted from the UK government and, on Thursday, three more supermarkets were shamed into following suit, taking the total refund to more than £1.8bn.  Then yesterday, two more big companies doing the same.  How sad that they had to be embarrassed into returning government subsidies they didn’t need;  and how stupid that the government hadn’t linked the subsidies to an embargo on dividend payments and a limit to executive pay.

But it’s not just supermarkets:  the Arcadia boss, Philip Green, has come under pressure from MPs and unions to sell assets to make good the huge shortfall in his retail empire’s pension scheme ahead of the company’s collapse into administration.  Do we think he will? Is the Pope a Muslim?

Other charmers include Philip Heath, a “senior executive” at Kingspan, the company which made the inflammable cladding that killed 72 people in the Grenfell Tower inferno after safety test results had been falsified.  The public enquiry was told he invited a builder who’d queried the panels’ safety to “go fuck themselves”.  It’s also claimed he told friends the builders were mistaking him for “someone who gives a dam [sic]”.

Elsewhere, what a not-surprise that the EU negotiators have failed to reached an agreement and have passed it up the line to their guvnors, a classic negotiation ploy which I’ve used myself in the past.  However, for this to work, you need to have a competent guvnor to take over and all we’ve got is Boris Johnson.

Nevertheless, the FTSE 100 has recorded its best month since 1989 in the belief that the discovery of a working coronavirus vaccine will immediately put everything to rights.  Isn’t it fascinating how thick investment managers are.  The second lockdown took them completely by surprise and markets plummeted and now the apparent success of a single vaccine still to be introduced showed that everything’s OK again.

The third surge that celebrates our Christmas freedom to share germs with friends and relations will no doubt amaze them and markets will fall again, and this is before they realise that a few small uncertainties still remain, like whether Brexit will actually benefit the British economy, how to find the money borrowed by the government to help us survive the pandemic, if Ireland will survive, whether Joe Biden’s presidency will be able to repair the damage Trump’s done, and so on, and on.

While some scientists are working on vaccines, others are culturing meat that can be grown in laboratories so animals don’t have to be killed to produce it and the Singapore Food Agency has recently approved ‘chicken bites’ produced by a US company.  I don’t eat (or like) meat so I’m not the best person to comment but I don’t find the idea of eating something “made from biopsies on animals … using bovine serum extracted from foetal blood” entirely irresistible.

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